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The Perfect Savannah Weekend Means Lowcountry Food, Art, and Luxury

By Stratton Lawrence

07.18.19

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The team behind Savannah’s award-winning restaurant The Grey opened the more casual The Grey Market in spring 2019.

Photo by Hunter McRae

The team behind Savannah’s award-winning restaurant The Grey opened the more casual The Grey Market in spring 2019.

Charleston’s edgier sibling offers visitors award-winning food, great art, and fascinating history.

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Savannah’s charm is prominently on display, in stately squares framed by moss-draped oaks and gracious centuries-old homes that bred notable artists like songwriter Johnny Mercer and writer Flannery O’Connor. You can spend a weekend just strolling the streets, but in a city so full of art, food, and culture, there are ample excuses to slow down and soak it in.

Georgia’s coastal gem balances its history with a stylish, modern vibe, fueled by the presence of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Beyond the bachelorette parties that swarm River Street, the city is quickly and quietly building an array of forward-thinking restaurants and boutique inns. Think of Savannah as swanky Charleston’s edgier, slightly better-looking little sister . . . who went to art school and came home with tattoos. 

A weekend spent based in the heart of the Historic District’s distinctive grid layout can include excursions beyond the neighborhood to experience the work of the artists, chefs, and visionaries who define this vibrant community.

Savannah’s residents have been eating Leopold’s Ice Cream since 1919.
Where to Eat 

To understand the rapid transformation of Savannah’s dining scene, consider that a decade ago, before her public fall from grace for revelations of past racist behavior, Paula Deen reigned as the city’s culinary queen. Today, that title belongs to Mashama Bailey, the James Beard Award–winning chef behind The Grey. The restaurant, built into the city’s former bus station, is an airy art deco showstopper, where the locally inspired cuisine means the bold flavors of a rich hoppin’ John or smothered quail over a grits cake and creole sauce. 

In May 2019, the same culinary team launched The Grey Market, a diner that reflects the restaurant owners’ New York roots in sandwiches like the Lower East, a bagel slathered with cream cheese and beet-cured lox.

Just down Martin Luther King Boulevard from The Grey, The Fat Radish expanded upon another New York–born concept with its summer 2019 opening. The menu features veggies and is family style, like that of its older NYC sibling of the same name, but in Savannah it includes options like a surprisingly hearty beet curry with Carolina Gold rice, and shaved cauliflower tossed in anchovy, mint, and chili oil.

Among the many established, tourist-jammed restaurants in the Historic District, Vinnie Van GoGo’s is a local favorite for its generously sized pies (bring cash; no credit cards accepted). For dessert or a classic BLT, it’s worth braving the line that snakes down the sidewalk at Leopold’s Ice Cream. The landmark soda fountain hit the century mark in 2019, and local loyalty is evidenced by the no-wait Ben & Jerry’s across the street.

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North of Forsyth Park, a few neighborhood hot spots are worthy of a long walk or a short Uber ride. Green Truck Pub is widely regarded as the city’s best burger joint—its twists on the classic range from the Rustico (goat cheese, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, fresh basil) to El Jefe (loaded with black-bean salsa and Southwestern fixins’). One of the husband/wife owners is a vegetarian—accordingly, their case for the “best veggie burger” is equally strong.

Atlantic beckons the hungry into its converted gas station dining room, where shareable plates of lamb meatloaf, lemon scallops, and ratatouille are complemented by a small but inviting selection of wines by the glass. The next morning, venture south to Big Bon Bodega, where decadent bagel sandwiches adorned with pork bulgogi and kimchi cream cheese start your day with a flavor bang. Enjoy it with a cup of organic fair-trade coffee from The Sentient Bean, Savannah’s standard-bearing coffee shop for nearly two decades.

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The rooftop pool at the Perry Lane Hotel offers a skyline view of the city.

Where to Stay

In a city known for elegant accommodations, Perry Lane Hotel set a new bar for service and luxury when it opened in 2018. An expansive rooftop includes an idyllic pool, cozy lawn seating with views across the skyline, and Peregrin, a bar with a tropical vibe, draped in greenery and sporting stylish tile. On the ground floor, the French/Southern fare at The Emporium makes a terrific case for a night in, and the wide-windowed dining room fills nightly with nonguests.

Slightly further afield, the Mansion on Forsyth Park shines for its vibrant balance of history and contemporary art. The halls and walls double as a gallery for local and international painters and sculptors, and the permanent collection includes “A Century of Hats,” a display that attracts walk-ins eager to see the eclectic display of ladies’ headwear. An outdoor courtyard, tiled in white marble, boasts one of the city’s most charming pools, while the onsite 700 Drayton restaurant is worth visiting both for its lump crab cakes and its setting within the original parkside mansion, with soaring ceilings and an inviting sunroom.

Savannah’s most distinctive lodging may be The Thunderbird Inn, a ’60s-style motor inn that’s been modernized (including a full array of rooftop solar panels that power electric-car charging stations and its iconic neon sign) without sacrificing any of its retro appeal. Guests nosh on the Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivered each morning, and the RC Cola and Moon Pie left on their pillows upon arrival. The motel is situated within easy walking distance of The Fat Radish, The Grey, and the open-air City Market.

Savannah’s farmers’ market features live music and local farm vendors.
What to Do

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General William Sherman spared Savannah during his Civil War march of destruction, likely due to its importance as a port city. That leniency means there are still a lot of historic buildings for today’s visitors to tour in open trolleys, horse-drawn buggies—and even hearses, for a nightly ghost tour. For an informative and untouristy introduction to the town, schedule a walking tour with Orlando Montoya of Noble Jones Tours. A former reporter for Georgia’s public radio, Montoya has a passion for the city that is evident. In the summer months, he offers 8 a.m. excursions before the heat sets in.

To see what life was like during the antebellum days, visit the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, where tours focus not only on the opulence and exquisite architecture of the 1819 home and grounds but also on a clear-eyed examination of the lives of the enslaved people whose labor enabled that lifestyle.

Witness another aspect of Savannah’s history at scenic Fort Pulaski, set immediately on the banks of the Savannah River. The moated Civil War–era fort’s brick walls are open for exploration—settle in next to the historic cannons fronting the water and watch the giant modern container ships make their way upriver.

You can easily pass an afternoon shopping in Savannah. Among the boutiques along Broughton Street, The Paris Market stands out for its eclectic collection of housewares, antiques, and jewelry. At the City Market, bypass the touristy scene downstairs and head to the upstairs galleries where over two dozen local artists display paintings and fine art.

In a city defined by art, the leading showcase is the Jepson Center, where the walls of glass and white stone create a cool and calm environment for viewing art. The museum’s focus ranges from photography to fine art, from the works of local artists to those of world renown; recent exhibits include sketches by Rembrandt and an interactive series by video-game designer Keita Takahashi.

For an entirely different array of art, visit the Savannah African Art Museum on 37th Street. The free gallery boasts over 1,000 intricate masks and sculptures from across the African continent, and passionate guides are on hand to explain their significance.

On Saturday morning, plan your day around the Forsyth Park Farmers’ Market, a hyperlocal gathering that features farmers and artisanal food vendors, including several bakers and a local coffee-roaster. For a mimosa-soaked immersive experience, join 700 Kitchen’s Farmers’ Market cooking class. After shopping the market for lion’s mane mushrooms, Georgia peaches, and fresh pecans, chef Shahin Afsharian guides his cooking students through each step to prepare an impressive brunch spread.

Thus satiated, head uptown to Two Tides Brewing, a nanobrewery set in a historic home. After ordering a pint, like a Chromatose blackberry lactose sour ale, head to the free pinball room, or step through the window (one of the city’s many architectural quirks) onto the hidden porch overlooking the alley below. From this vantage, you can take a deep breath of salty, humid air, and relax into the steamy Savannah evening.

>>Next: The Best Weekend Getaways in the United States

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